Our first Retail Beat webinar surfaced fascinating insights from three innovative brands: Violet Grey, Summersalt, and Famous Footwear. From rethinking the “in-store” experience to getting creative with campaigns, here are the key takeaways.
Rethinking “In-Store” & Omnichannel Fulfillment
In the first weeks of the pandemic, retailers were forced to quickly rethink their distribution and fulfillment strategies. With interruptions to the supply chain and the shuttering of in-store retail locations, many brands have had to strike a delicate balance between continuing to serve customers and fulfilling orders in the safest, most efficient way possible.
For retailers that previously relied on brick-and-mortar sales as a significant source of revenue, providing a seamless online customer experience has become central to survival. A focus on contactless payment options, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay at POS, mobile payment on the website, and offering Quadpay as a split payment option can smooth this transition to pure play digital. Retailers should also keep close tabs on their shipping operations and warehousing productivity to minimize delays in order fulfillment.
In addition to the eCommerce experience, maintaining some kind of in-store pickup option can provide continuity for customers who are accustomed to shopping at physical stores. At Famous Footwear, the team was able to update its traditional buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) option to continue to allow for in-store pickup at certain locations. For Violet Grey, recreating the in-store experience meant offering personalized recommendations through “virtual clienteling” as well as focusing on enhanced chat and text messaging support.
Messaging for the Moment
An important theme that emerged during our discussion was the importance of empathetic communication with customers. As Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin of Summersalt said, “It was very important for us to not create any discord through insensitive messaging.”
Some brands have taken a more cautious “wait-and-see” approach to their communication strategies, reacting to official government mandates and CDC guidelines in formulating their responses. However, even “evergreen” messaging may need to be reworked in light of the current crisis. Several of the brands we spoke to have made it common practice to periodically review their whole ecosystem of customer touchpoints, from welcome series to trigger emails, to ensure that nothing could be perceived as tone deaf as the coronavirus situation evolves.
When it comes to more proactive brand messaging, the key is to refocus on “essentials” in the current moment. For Famous Footwear, that means promoting in-home workout gear rather than spring sandals, while Violet Grey has shifted its focus to self-care and DIY.
At Summersalt, the brand’s “Joycast” initiative aimed at sharing good news with customers has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response. In general, recognizing customers where they are right now—whether they are dealing with unemployment, health concerns, or just day-to-day anxiety—can build brand loyalty and equity in the long term.
Keeping the Frontline Top of Mind
As an extension of this empathetic approach to customers, many brands are doing what they can to directly contribute to the fight against COVID-19. Often, this takes a village: Violet Grey has teamed up with brand partners to donate equipment to healthcare workers at the Javits Center emergency field hospital in New York City. The brand is also raising $10 million for the First Responders Fund.
On a more local scale, Violet Grey is maintaining an active digital community with other Los Angeles retailers to share insights and updates. According to CEO April Uchitel, these communities “make us feel connected day to day but also smarter in our decision-making.”
Summersalt has also tapped into the power of collective action to address the crisis, creating a coalition of over 100 brands for the Brands x Better initiative. These retailers have committed to donating a percentage of April and May proceeds to organizations like No Kid Hungry and Direct Relief. Together, they’ve raised over $2.6 million to date.
For small businesses, it may not be possible to mobilize on this scale—but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. Consider smaller ways to make a positive impact for frontline workers and everyday people in your community.
The Bottom Line: More Innovation, Less BAU
Above all, innovation and agility have become key to continued success in a tightening retail market. This might mean tapping into existing resources in different ways, by producing a marketing campaign remotely. Or maybe it means creatively leveraging partnerships, such as commissioning influencers to create DIY content at home.
As Chattaram Chamberlin puts it: “ We’re not afraid of experimentation. We know that we might try something and it may not work 100%, but we’re excited to continue to innovate.”
Whatever tactics retailers choose to pursue, the changing retail climate has created an opportunity for nimble brands to bystep bureaucratic processes in order to offer value to customers in the moment. Brands that embrace this opportunity for innovation and experimentation will emerge stronger and more agile as the retail environment continues to evolve.